Leeds International Festival of Ideas 2021: Stars line-up to join Sir Lenny Henry

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Leeds International Festival of Ideas 2021's full star-studded line-up has been announced including Sir Lenny Henry, Katherine Ryan, Alastair Campbell, Michaela Strachan, George Clarke, Evan Davis, Kanya King and Matthew Parris.

The final names and events for Leeds International Festival of Ideas have been announced as it looks to present a truly ambitious programme and a platform for exploring new ideas and innovation.

BUY TICKETS: Leeds International Festival of Ideas 2021 runs over a two-week period from September 13 to 27. For full programme details and tickets visit www.leedsintfest.com.

Announcing the panels along with nearly 30 speakers, the festival will discuss and debate the questions; Can we ever be who we want to be? Does the future have enough food? Are we more lonely? Is the UK media broken and finally Green or Growth?

The festival presents the five thought-provoking panel debates running alongside four inspirational keynote speeches exploring and challenging key issues and viewpoints - all impacted on during the last extraordinary 18 months bringing renowned names, experts in their field and some of the world’s most exciting thinkers to Leeds.

The festival has also announced it will run across three landmark venues in Leeds - he historic Leeds Corn Exchange, legendary City Varieties Music Hall and the centrepiece Leeds Town Hall.

New names for the panels include BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan, the award-winning author, queer performer and script writer of big and small screens Amrou Al-Kadhi, “Romcomoisseur” Bolu Babalola, a writer for TV and film, and TV and Culture columnist for Dazed.

Caroline Criado Perez is the author behind Invisible Women and campaigned to feature the first woman on British bank notes, the stand-up comedian, writer, presenter and coach Deborah Franics-White, the sought-after Scandi TedX keynote speaker, cultural sociologist and bestselling author Emilia Van Hauen, and on the media panel is multi-award winning Parliamentary sketch writer Matthew Parris, who writes on politics for renowned national publications such as The Times.

Also joining is popular wildlife TV presenter Michaela Strachan, a key presenter of the BBC Springwatch series, who has been gracing our screens for 30 years.

Previously announced as leading the line-up are four famous figures – actor, comedian and campaigner Sir Lenny Henry CBE, comedian and presenter Katherine Ryan, architect and campaigner George Clarke and founder of the MOBO organisation Kanya King CBE - alongside economic expert and BBC presenter Evan Davis, award-winning writer and broadcaster Alix Fox, Tony Blair’s former Communications Strategist and Chief Spokesman Alastair Campbell campaigner, speaker and writer Gina Martin, Masterchef Judge, Guardian food critic and Author Grace Dent.

The aims of the festival are to provide a platform for the exploration of new ideas and innovation while confronting the challenges of our time and discussing the world of tomorrow.

Martin Dickson, Leeds International Festival of Ideas Lead said: “We are delighted to be launching the festival website and releasing all tickets on sale for the amazing programme of events.

Keynote speaker Sir Lenny HenryKeynote speaker Sir Lenny Henry
Keynote speaker Sir Lenny Henry

"Imagine in just six days sitting in the Corn Exchange watching such a calibre of acts like George Clarke, Kanya King, Katherine Ryan and culminating with Sir Lenny Henry."

LeedsBID is working alongside key partners including Leeds Corn Exchange, Leeds Heritage Theatre, Leeds City Council, Weightmans, Dakota and Bruntwood - to bring Leeds International Festival of Ideas to the city.

Full list of Events:

Are we more Lonely? At City Varieties Music Hall, September 13, 7pm: Featuring Deborah Frances-White, Dr Melrose Stewart, Alix Fox, Emilia Van Hauen, Bolu Babolula. Loneliness can kill. Likely to increase your death risk by 26% (Holt-Lunstad, 2015), loneliness is a societal epidemic. One which can strike anyone, whether surrounded by people, or living in isolation. What can we do to sustain a life full of love and companionship? Does tech help or hinder? What diverse forms can companionship take? And have COVID restrictions around intimacy made returning to physical touch outside of our household ‘bubble’ an insurmountable task? Join our panel of intimacy and relationship experts to dissect dating apps, discuss the intimacies of relationships and explore how we might grow old - together.

Katherine RyanKatherine Ryan
Katherine Ryan

The MOBOS and Me with Kanya King CBE at Leeds Corn Exchange, September 19, 4.30pm. Kanya King CBE founded the MOBOs in 1996, and is recognised as a major player in the music industry, especially in upholding music of Black origin. In the MOBOs and Me, we discuss what it was like being a woman in the music industry then and now, and the challenges of being a Black woman in a very white and male-dominated scene. We’ll be discussing the current state of play for women and POC, and looking to what the goals are today, now that mainstream music is slowly being held more accountable for its lack of diversity?

Does the Future have enough food? City Varieties Music Hall, September 20, 7pm: Featuring Grace Dent, Dr Morgaine Gaye, Mike Lee, Ben Davy (Meatless Farm), Ness Knight. What does the future hold for the production of food? How will our environment change how and what we eat? If you've wondered if bugs are tasty, whether pub grub will be grown in a lab, or if there are enough fish in the sea for us to continue to eat them, this event is a must-see. Will we overhaul how and what we eat through modern innovations, or should we be looking back to regenerative and traditional processes? Join Grace Dent and a panel of food experts to explore the foods of the future, and the future of food.

Living in a Future City with George Clarke at Leeds Corn Exchange, September 21, 7pm: TV's favourite architect-come-social housing campaigner George Clarke hosts Living in a Future City, an event designed to explore the potential of our urban spaces. How will the city of the future look? Following a year of COVID restrictions, the urban population's wants and needs have evolved. How should we be developing the blueprint for cities of the future in response? For city dwellers of tomorrow to thrive, we need to embrace and overcome interdependent challenges in urban infrastructure, transport, the natural environment and urban systems and services that impact health, wellbeing and the economy.

In Conversation with Katherine Ryan, at Leeds Corn Exchange, September 22, 7pm: Katherine Ryan is a star of UK screens, with her own Netflix series The Duchess, countless comedy panels and as a presenter on All That Glitters. She has also topped podcast charts with her podcast Telling Everybody Everything. Join us for this intimate Q&A, where we'll discuss her stand out accomplishments, including new book The Audacity, being a critically acclaimed comedian, and selling out venues across the globe.

Can we ever be who we want to be? Leeds Town Hall, September 23, 7pm: Featuring: Amrou Al-Kadhi, Hashi Mohamed, Caroline Criado Perez, Anne-Marie Imafidon, Gina Martin. What do seatbelts, life jackets and antibiotics have in common? They were originally designed for white men. Whether through oversight or intention, many everyday solutions and institutions were built around the needs of cis white men. What changes need to happen so that the needs of everyone are better considered? Hosted by Amrou Al-Kadhi, join us as we learn from activists, writers and experts including Caroline Criado-Perez, Hashi Mohamed and Gina Martin, to discuss the conditionality of the everyday structures we take for granted, and the extraordinary people struggling for equality.

Is the UK media Broken? Leeds Town Hall, September 24t, 7pm: Featuring: Evan Davis, Amol Rajan, Alastair Campbell, Matthew Parris, Robyn Vinter. This is the decade of digital dependency. Rather than flicking through pages, we swipe screens. Radio competes with podcasts, and video appears everywhere. Tech opens a window directly into people’s 'real' daily lives, curated fiction as they may or may not be. Every intimate thought and action can be captured; accessible and shareable, more than ever before. With so much raw footage, have the media become our mediators? Do our political and cultural stances affect the 'truths' we are told? Now we see everyone’s life through a screen, what impact does this have on our behaviour, and on civilisation itself?

Alastair CampbellAlastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell

Who am I, again? With Sir Lenny Henry CBE, at Leeds Corn Exchange, September 25, 7pm: Sir Lenny Henry released his memoir, charting his life in TV and comedy, “Who am I, again?” in 2019. As an actor, comedian and campaigner imbued with wit, honesty and charm, Sir Henry has been a prolific figure in British TV for more than 45 years. Alongside the up-close and personal revelations of his life as a Black actor in show business which are revealed in "Who am I, again?", we’ll be exploring whether we can reclaim troubled or controversial tropes and genres through intelligent, empathetic, and diverse casting.

Green or Growth? City Varieties Music Hall, September 27, 7pm: Featuring: Michaela Strachan, Henri Murison, Paul Chatterton, Noga Levy-Rapoport. Sustainability and capitalism have long been sworn enemies. But must sustainability and capitalism be opposites, or can they go hand-in-hand? What if growth can be Green? We'll be investigating the challenges of sustainable economic growth and development, with everyone from activists to academics via the pioneers of the Northern Powerhouse, presented by TV's Michaela Strachan. Can economic success be compatible with our planet’s ecology, and on a micro, citywide level: how can we protect and expand Leeds' green spaces? Will HS2 allow positive ecological and economic growth? And does Leeds Bradford airport really need a new terminal?

Full Names:


Sir Lenny Henry CBE

Katherine Ryan

Kanya King CBE

George Clarke

Panel Debates: (in order of appearance at the festival)

Deborah Frances White

Dr Melrose Stewart

Alix Fox

Emilia Van Hauen

Bolu Babolula

Grace Dent

Dr Morgaine Gaye

Mike Lee

Ben Davy

Ness Knight

Amrou Al-Kadhi

Hashi Mohamed

Caroline Criado Perez

Anne-Marie Imafidon

Gina Martin

Evan Davis

Amol Rajan

Alastair Campbell

Matthew Parris

Robyn Vinter

Michaela Strachan

Henri Murison

Prof. Paul Chatterton

Noga Levy-Rapoport